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Reading 2012: The Cross of Christ

February 20, 2012

Since John R. W. Stott’s death in July 2011, interest in The Cross of Christ has been revived, particularly through the 20th anniversary edition (2006). Although it’s only been around 25 years since first published, The Cross of Christ has already been recognized as a Christian classic. It was on my list of Christian classic to-reads, along with older authors as Athanasius, Augustine, and Luther.

Like a skilled jeweler carefully examining and detailing the many facets of a gem, John Stott goes the cross and carefully inspects, details, and elaborates the many facets of the cross of Christ. Only in this case, he is not merely examining some diamond in the rough, but the crown jewel of Christianity.

While books with titles of “Cross-Centered-____” or “Christ-centered-____” practically compete for space on the new-release theology shelves of Christian bookstores these days, The Cross of Christ is undoubtedly the most comprehensive book on the centrality of the cross. Academic and practical in it’s coverage, this work is both scholarly and heavily devotional. Stott interacts with and draws from a wealth of philosophers and theologians past and present, and also delicately draws from Scriptural texts with his skills as a practiced  exegete.

The book is divided into four sections, comprising thirteen main chapters:

I. Approaching the Cross

1. The Centrality of the Cross
2. Why Did Christ Die?
3. Looking below the Surface

II. The Heart of the Cross

4. The Problem of Forgiveness
5. Satisfaction for Sin
6. Self-Substitution of God

III. The Achievement of the Cross

7. The Salvation of Sinners
8. The Revelation of God
9. The Conquest of Evil

IV. Living Under the Cross

10. The Community of Celebration
11. Self-Understanding and Self-Giving
12. Loving Our Enemies
13. Suffering and Glory

Conclusion: The Pervasive Influence of the Cross

There were some statements and conclusions on which I found myself conflicted or coming to an alternate conclusion, but even given the length of the book, such occasions were very few and did not detract from the overall theme and importance of the book.

The book is somewhat lengthy and not necessarily light reading, but it is one that I would recommend, and perhaps consider as a must-read for Christians.

Here are some quotes from the book (random:  there are countless that are worthy of being framed and wall-mounted):

“Life in a Christian home, which should in any case be characterized by natural human love, should be further enriched by supernatural human love, that is, the love of the cross. It should mark all Christian family relationships, between husband and wife, parents and children, brothers and sisters. For we are to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph. 5:21), the Christ whose humble and submissive love led him even to the cross. Yet it is especially husbands who are singled out” (281).

(Reading the above section, I was greatly reminded how grateful I am for a husband, in particular, who has loved me in this way.)

“The spirit of James and John lingers on, especially in us who have been cushioned by affluence.  It is true that inflation and unemployment have brought to many a new experience of insecurity.  Yet we still regard security as our birthright and ‘safety first’ as a prudent motto.  Where is the spirit of adventure, the sense of uncalculating solidarity with the underprivileged?  Where are the Christians who are prepared to put service before security, compassion before comfort, hardship before ease?  Thousands of pioneer Christian tasks are waiting to be done, which challenge our complacency and call for risk.  Insistence on security is incompatible with the way of the cross.  What daring adventures the incarnation and the atonement were!  What a breach of convention and decorum that Almighty God should renounce his privileges in order to take human flesh and bear human sin!  Jesus had no security except in his Father.  So to follow Jesus is always to accept at least a measure of uncertainty, danger and rejection for his sake. . . ” (288)

“The cross lies at the very heart of mission. For the cross-cultural missionary it may mean costly individual and family sacrifices, the renunciation of economic security and professional promotion, solidarity with the poor and needy, repenting of the pride and prejudice of supposed cultural superiority, and the modesty (and sometimes frustration) of serving under national leadership. Each of these can be a kind of death, but it is a death which brings life to others.” (283)

(This book was part of my February reading. I’m still behind and need to finish reviewing the last few for January. :))

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